Memo to the
President: Think Innovation
October 15, 2009
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Kuczmarski has some advice on innovation for our No. 1 C-level
executive, President Barack Obama. Innovation can get the American
economy back on track. It can also help you achieve your top policy
objectives. There are key principles of innovation you--and C-level
executives everywhere--should follow. Innovation should be a cabinet-level
position, Kuczmarski thinks, but a lot of C-level executives don’t
give it the credibility it deserves.
knows a lot about innovation and its role in strategy. As an author,
professor of innovation at the Kellogg School of Management at
Northwestern University and founder and CEO of innovation consultancy,
Kuczmarski & Associates, Kuczmarski is the dean of innovation
advisors. Over the years he’s helped executives at Coca
Cola, S. C. Johnson, American Express, Nestle and IBM improve
their innovation and new product, service and process success.
this recession,] everyone has gravitated toward cutting costs
and cutting jobs,” Kuczmarski says. “That's not going
to generate new solutions, new ways to do business and new business
models. Now is the perfect time to invest in a leapfrog strategy
to get ahead of the competition.”
example,] when Kraft Foods CEO Irene Rosenfeld announced they
were putting new products on hold given the economic situation,
the smart Kraft competitors said: ‘Let’s double-down
now on innovation investments. In two to three years, we’ll
be significantly ahead of Kraft,’” Kuczmarski says.
with the United States and call China or India the innovation
investors and you see what Kuczmarski has in mind for Obama (To
read how other marketers rate Obama the marketer, see story on
can't relegate innovation into some small box. Elevate it. Provide
exposure for its importance and its potential. Otherwise, it just
turns into one of those words that sounds like motherhood and
apple pie,” Kuczmarski adds.
says we could better solve the big problems with our nation’s
energy policies, healthcare and manufacturing base if we adopt
the proven principles of innovation. Government executives, like
business managers, haven’t broken these issues down into
a problem-solving activity to identify solutions and innovations
that exist within.”
got his start in brand management at Quaker Oats in the 1970s.
“They put me in what they called ‘new areas.’
I worked on two projects, Aunt Jemima frozen crepe batter and
chewy nut granola bars. It always intrigued me that Aunt Jemima
frozen crepe batter was a bomb and the chewy nut granola bar is
still around today. What was it that made one a failure and the
other a huge success?” Kuczmarski asks.
led Kuczmarski to a lifelong professional journey. He joined strategy
consultancy Booz Allen where he worked on a landmark and oft-quoted
study. “It was called ‘New Product Management for
the 1980s.’ We evaluated 700 companies in North America
and Europe to understand the key differentiators between the winners
and losers. The companies doing well had a separate innovation
strategy and a commonly agreed, systematic development process,”
Kuczmarski adds. It led Kuczmarski to write his first book, Managing
New Products, to elaborate on the need for these elements.
second book, Innovation, was written because I realized
you also need an innovation culture and an innovation mindset,”
his most recent book, Apples Are Square, Kuczmarski focuses
on the final ingredient of innovation success: leadership.
profiled 25 leaders to analyze characteristics that foster a more
innovative environment. It's collaboration. It's compassion. It's
inclusion. It is understanding and valuing the differences in
people. It is transparency, openness and humility--not ego. It's
understanding and empathizing with customers.”
you’re Obama or another C-level executive, Kuczmarski says
- A stated
- A mutually
agreed innovation process
- A culture
that supports innovation
- A managerial
mindset that stimulates innovation, and
- A visible
set of leadership practices that foster innovation
believes this journey of discovery he’s been on since the
mid-70s could transform America as well as American companies.
So how do
you get started?
on two small projects. One internal and one external innovation
project,” Kuczmarski suggests. “The internal project
might be a customer service operations efficiency effort. The
external one could be how to better serve senior citizens as a
you do, don’t announce to the organization that you're going
to become this new innovative company. Do these two projects first.
Get some results. Then start the story talking within the company
on how and why you want to become more innovative as an organization.
Be sure to get your C-level executives involved in the two pilot
you complete the projects, celebrate your success. Then start
providing the vision for what innovation could do for other parts
of the organization. That’s the time for the innovation
summit [with teams from across the company]. Then create an innovation
strategy, ensuring there's a commonly agreed innovation methodology.
Then put in place the compensation system, the incentives, the
human resources and the organizational structure that you need
to make sure innovation becomes an ongoing engine for growth.”
a more junior executive in your company, Kuczmarski says you can
also create constructive change for innovation.
a few colleagues that feel like you do about innovation. Get a
research project funded. Explore one segment of customers. Gain
some new insights on their desires, problems, needs and issues.
Come armed to senior management with some real research insight.
That’s the way to start,” Kuczmarski adds.
is optimistic about America’s prospects for recovery through
innovation. He says all of us have potential to be more innovative
and lead innovation in our organizations.
there are people who are inherently born with creative skills,
but innovators are people who are successful at innovation. Innovators
are absolutely made,” Kuczmarski adds.
I hope our
leadership in Washington and C-suites are listening.
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com